This is a post born jointly of my participation in the Sainsburys blogger network and of some last minute, quick thinking recipe creation. When Sainsburys asked if anyone would like to try the new fish they are stocking, I stepped up. I like fish, and seafood generally, but it’s not one of my go-to foods. What I mean is that I’m not in the habit of buying or cooking fish, and I thought this would be a wee kick start out of that complacent, habit-led kind of shipping and cooking I’ve been doing.
I expected the river cobbler to be on the shelf as fillets or steaks, and planned on coating them lightly in oats and serving with potatoes and green veg. Nothing fancy, but the kind of menu that would let us properly taste the fish. As it happened, life, the universe and Sainsburys had other plans.
On the day I went shopping, the shelves held the choice of either pre-breaded or smoked fillets. Some quick recalculations began to happen. It’s possible that fellow shoppers could hear my brain whirring as I looked at my options, weighing them up. In the end, I was in the mood for some cooking beyond putting the breaded fillets in the oven, and opted for the smoked fish.
When faced with smoked fish (not that this happens often, and certainly not unexpectedly as that phrase would suggest. I have images of me turning a street corner and finding myself nose to nose with a kipper), my mind goes to two classic recipes: chowder (or Cullen skink) or kedgeree. Having made both of these for blog purposes already, I cast my thought net further afield. I wanted something without lots of other, strong flavours that would get in the way of the river cobbler, and something that would be ready to make. I didn’t want to go from ‘I’ll just dip this in some egg and oats’ to ‘I’ll just prepare this Jacobean banquet’. And then it hit me. Not a rogue kipper but an idea – I’d make some fishcakes. They only need a few ingredients, and they’re not too much work. The perfect solution.
Here is the recipe I came up with on the hoof (or on the fin, perhaps). It makes six fishcakes, or 24 mini ones.
- two fillets smoked river cobbler
- 100ml milk
- 10 new potatoes
- half a courgette
- zest of one small lemon
- handful flat leaf parsley
- salt and pepper
- a little oil, for frying
First, get the kettle on so that you can cook the spuds. Add the boiling water to a pot, with a few pinches of salt, and boil them over a high heat for fifteen minutes.
Once you start the potatoes, put the fish in a frying pan with the milk. You’re not poaching them, but the milk will take on the flavour of the smoked fish and will be useful for holding your fishcakes together later. Cook over a medium low heat for ten minutes, then turn and cook the other side for five. The milk and the low heat combine to keep the fish moist while it cooks, too.
The fish and the spuds will be ready at the same time. Turn the heat off under both, and put the fish on a plate to cool reserving the remaining milk in the pan. Drain the potatoes and leave them in the strainer for now.
Leave both to sit while you prepare whatever veg you’re having, or make a salad, or both. Or, if you’re having them on their own, sit down quietly for ten minutes and contemplate the everythingness of being. Once you’ve done that, grate the courgette and lemon zest, and finely chop the parsley, ready to go in the fishcakes.
Now tip the potatoes, skin and all, into a big bowl. Furiously crush them, with overdramatic arm lifting and big banging noises. This is simply the best way to accomplish the task quickly. Don’t worry about mashing them smooth, just break up all the biggest lumps. It’s nice to have some texture in the end result.
Gently break the fish into chunks, and drop into the bowl. It should do this with only a little pressure from your hands, making big flakes.
Add the courgette and lemon zest to the bowl, too, and stir through. Then add the parsley and a teaspoon or two of the milk from the frying pan. Stir and see how the mixture looks – if it is still very dry, add more milk. Taste, then season with salt and pepper.
Lift out small handfuls of the mixture and shape into fishcakes – or, for little ones, take portions about the size of golf balls and roll into a ball, then flatten and smooth round the edges.
Empty the frying pan of any remaining milk, and wipe with a paper towel or quickly rinse and dry. Heat a little oil over a medium high heat, then cook the fishcakes for around three minutes on each side, to colour. If you have room, you can cook up some veg in there with them.
You can also stick these on a bap (or a bagel) and call them burgers, if you like.
A few words on the river cobbler, which was a new fish to me. A quick google shows that there is controversy surrounding it, as with many types of fish. You can read the Sainsburys blog about it here – river cobbler in Sainsburys is ASC certified as responsibly sourced, which lays a few worries to rest straight away. However, it does come all the way from Vietnam – that does tend to cause an issue if you want to ‘eat local’, or worry about food miles. Here is a balanced look at the pros and cons from the Good Fish Guide. Overall, they rate it as a 3, which puts it right in the middle of their scale of 1 to 5, the main concerns being that the fish the river cobbler are fed on can’t be certified, and that the farms in which they live are prone to environmental pollution. The ASC mark seems to take all this into account – here is their page on river cobbler, also known as pangasius.
It doesn’t have a strong smell or taste, which puts many people off from trying or enjoying fish, but it does have a firm and almost creamy texture. It tastes similar to other white fish, and props to Sainsburys for not over-smoking it and soiling this delicate flavour. Props also for the filetting; I didn’t find a single pinbone. This was an ideal fish for these chunky fishcakes, as it is robust enough to flake apart without completely disappearing into the mix, and they tasted great without being too heavy or rich, as some smoked fish can be.
All in all, I declare this a successful adventure. Carry on.